Skip to main content

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Which noise-cancelling earbuds win?

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Apple or Sony? Our WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro comparison will show you which wireless ANC earbuds are more deserving of your money. Both sets of wireless earbuds pack intuitive controls, great sound and powerful active noise cancellation into compact designs. They also stand out as two of the best noise-cancelling earbuds money can buy.

The much newer Sony WF-1000XM4 has already left a strong impression, with a fancy new appearance, stellar audio features and some of the longest battery life in the true wireless category. Meanwhile, the AirPods Pro remains a top seller for its superb interconnectivity with iOS devices and an ever-growing feature set via iOS updates.

Both products are stellar performers that offer unique listening experiences, but which is the better set of wireless earbuds? See the results of this Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro face-off below.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Specs compared

Sony WF-1000XM4 AirPods Pro
Price$279$249
Wireless chargingYesYes
ChipSony V1H1
Battery Life (Rated)8 hours (ANC on), 12 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case), 36 hours (with charging case and ANC off)4.5 hours (ANC on), 5 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case)
Water ResistanceIPX4IPX4
Case Size2.4 x 1.5 x 1.1 inches1.8 x 0.9 x 2.4 inches
Case Weight2 ounces1.6 ounces
Special featuresActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, Speak-to-Chat, customizable EQ, 360 Reality Audio, DSEE Extreme upscaling, LDAC, Bluetooth 5.2, tri-digital assistant support (Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri), quick chargingActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, customizable fit, audio sharing, Fast Fuel charging, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, wireless charging case

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Price

The AirPods Pro is the cheaper of the two options, marked at $249 brand new. We have seen some retailers drop the price down to as low as $180. Target has it for $199 at the time of publishing, while a refurbished pair can be had for $179 on Best Buy.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 just hit stores shelves with a $279 MSRP, which is $50 higher than its predecessor, the well-received Sony WF-1000XM3. We don’t see it going on sale anytime soon.

For all of the latest Apple and Sony headphones sales, be sure to bookmark our best cheap AirPods deals and best headphones deals pages.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Design

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Different shapes and different styles, the WF-1000XM4 and AirPods Pro are both striking models that come with their own sets of pros and cons that, when comparing the two, cancel each other out.

Sony gave the WF-1000XM4 a serious makeover, which consists of a thick oval shape, large touch panels, and copper ANC mic housings that add flair to its appearance. The buds are a bit bulkier than we would like, but this is still a welcomed upgrade from the WF-1000XM3’s wide and elongated form. Build quality is sturdy and an IPX4 rating brings sweat and water resistance into the equation. We also like that Sony stuck with signature colors like Black and Silver, though a Midnight Blue version would also look attractive.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

There are a few details that differentiate the AirPods Pro from its less-premium sibling, the AirPods 2. Those would be the black vents, ear tips, shorter stems, and IPX4 protection. The long-stem silhouette, all-plastic white frame, and silver accents remain intact. Construction is still subpar with the casing cracking if you drop the buds from a high distance or step on them.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The charging cases are both compact, minimalist, and won’t weigh down your pockets or everyday carry bag. Sony’s version is thicker, but keeps the buds safeguarded when on the go, while Apple’s version is slimmer and doesn’t provide the greatest protection. The AirPods Pro’s case takes on scuffs and scratches easily, plus its magnet doesn’t keep the lid tightly shut.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Where Apple makes up for its boring design is in comfort and fit. We’ve stressed this numerous times already, but in case you haven’t heard, the ear tips make all the difference. They create a nice seal around the canal and the sound port rests gently on the concha to wear for 2 hours before fatigue sets in. Apple even created an Ear Tip Fit Test to achieve optimal fit.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Part of the WF-1000M4’s redesign was to provide an ergonomic surface for a more stable fit. Mission unaccomplished. The memory foam tips that come installed right out of the box don’t create a tight seal (we recommend using silicone tips). Sony did develop its own test called Optimal Earbud Tips that is useful and provides necessary feedback to ensure the buds fit securely. Unfortunately, the sound port goes too deep into the canal, which feels awkward and applies unwanted pressure to the concha that worsens the longer you wear the buds. 

Winner: Tie

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Controls

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Our minds haven't changed: Apple still has the best control scheme of any wireless earbuds out there. The force sensor system at the bottom of each stem is responsive to presses, offering peace of mind when enabling intended commands. On-ear detection is just as reliable with audio automatically pausing whenever removing the buds. The real star is “Hey Siri” voice activation, granting you access to Apple’s AI bot whenever speaking the phrase out loud. Apple’s mics capture every syllable spoken and the AirPods Pro acts on voice commands quickly to return results even quicker.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Future)

To call the WF-1000XM4’s controls an improvement over the previous model would be an understatement. Touch gestures are registered accurately and execute media functions with finesse. Sony programmed a full suite of controls into these buds, including playback, call management, listening mode activation, digital assistance and volume. Motion detection operates as smoothly as it does on the AirPods Pro to automatically pause playback. Google Assistant and Alexa integration were thrown into the mix and work well, immediately activating whenever saying their respective action phrases.   

In addition, there are other features that make the WF-1000XM4 user-friendly to operate. Speak-to-Chat will pause music whenever you speak, whereas Quick Attention drops volume down to 10% to hear what’s happening around you without pausing music.  

Winner: AirPods Pro

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Sound quality

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Sony’s sound profile was the most revered hallmark on the WF-1000XM3, yet the company felt it needed to be refined on the WF-1000XM4. Bass is now toned down to deliver a better balance between high and low frequencies. What you get are get natural-sounding mids, detailed highs, and rich lows that still pack a punch. Turning on the DSEE Extreme setting in the companion app will improve fidelity on low-fi tracks as well. Sony even added support for its immersive 360 Reality Audio format that creates a 3D-like effect when listening to tracks on compatible streaming services such as Deezer and Tidal. Also, we can’t forget LDAC, AAC, and SBC codec support for high-quality streaming over Bluetooth.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

People still sleep on how great the AirPods Pro sounds. Apple’s adaptive EQ tunes the low- and mid-frequencies to the shape of your ear, producing warm audio that emphasizes bass without compromising vocals. These buds won’t blow you away with definition or range like the WF-1000XM4, but what you’re getting rivals most competitors in the category. The inclusion of spatial audio takes it up a notch to provide a surround-sound-like experience when watching Dolby Atmos content or selected Apple Music songs. It is a feature that works better for movies than music. 

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Active noise cancellation

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Sony improves on its stalwart ANC, stuffing similar adaptive noise-cancelling tech to the Sony WH-1000XM4  into the smaller WF-1000XM4. The technology is capable of adjusting on the fly based on your surroundings and is effective at rejecting the highest level of ambient noise possible. Indoors, the buds are amazing for silencing daily distractions like loud televisions, rowdy roommates, and the humming noise from an AC unit. We also loved the quietness they provided on walks with dog barks and speedboats going silent, while deafening noises like ambulance sirens and leaf-blowers were reduced enough to stay focused on whatever content was playing.

Apple’s noise cancellation blocks out commotion very well. The AirPods Pro’s mic array performs both an internal and external sound analysis to hush your surroundings. It does a fantastic job outside, shutting out noises from large crowds, motorbikes, and even wind. The technology was also beneficial on flights, pre-pandemic, reducing airplane engine droning. However, the feature isn’t perfect and lets in voices and other notable sounds (like doorbells and kitchen appliances) when indoors.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Transparency modes are programmed into each product and are serviceable for gaining greater awareness of your environment. The WF-1000XM4 is much stronger with 20 levels that can be adjusted in the companion app to control the amount of ambient noise you want to let in. Setting the feature to max amplifies the mics and lets you hear conversations taking place across the street, though clarity can be hit or miss depending on how loudly people speak. Still, to pick up voices from that far is a testament to how powerful Sony’s mics are. There's also an option to focus on voice, along with an automatic switching setting to adjust transparency based on your actions in locations you consistently visit.

The AirPods Pro’s Transparency mode is just as good for eavesdropping on chats or identifying specific noises within a two-block radius. Blaring sounds such as construction tools and car horns come off a bit harsh, but the addition of Headphone Accommodations is fantastic and turns the buds into hearing aids by tuning environmental sounds to your hearing. Something that was just introduced in the latest iOS update is Conversation Boost, a feature to help people with mild hearing issues that want to engage in clearer-sounding conversations without removing the buds.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Special features and apps

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The WF-1000XM4 comes fully equipped with some of the best and coolest features that can be enabled through the Sony Headphones Connect app. Our breakdown has already touched on major ones, including 360 Reality Audio, ANC, Ambient Sound Control, DSEE Extreme, Quick Attention, and Speak-to-Chat. There are several more to play with.

Most users will make their way to the Equalizer when opening the app. Here is where you can tweak the frequency levels and create your own sound profile or select from eight presets: Bass Boost, Bright, Excited, Mellow, Relaxed, Treble Boost, Speech, and Vocal. All of them are engineered superbly. Below the EQ is a Bluetooth Connection Quality setting to prioritize connectivity or sound quality. Battery level indicators for the earbuds and charging case, toggle controls, a music player, and firmware updates round out the app.

Sony’s flagship buds are one of the few to run on Bluetooth 5.2, giving you faster performance and steady range for wireless listening. Connecting to devices is super-fast, no matter the platform, though Android users can expedite the process with Google Fast Pair to instantly pair with the touch of a button.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The AirPods Pro’s feature set is equally great and doesn’t require a companion app to access. Spatial audio, Headphone Accommodations, and “Hey Siri” have already been discussed, but there are many more software perks to enjoy. Everything is tied to the H1 chip, which makes connecting to iOS/macOS devices lightning fast. The chipset also allows for audio sharing between two Apple/Beats headphones, auto switching, Siri Announce Notifications, and Find My functionality to locate lost buds using your last known location or by playing a sound when nearby.

You’re asking whether the AirPods Pro offers some form of audio customization? The answer is yes, and in different ways. Let’s start with the EQ that can be selected in the iOS settings to choose from over 20 different presets, most of which complement their respective genres or content. Users can modify the EQ settings in Spotify to achieve similar outcomes. Headphones Accommodation is another option where three recommendations are available to tune audio: balanced tone, vocal range, and brightness.

Neither model comes with multipoint technology. Sony also removed NFC this time around, meaning you won’t be able to effortlessly connect the WF-1000XM4 by tapping its charging case on the back of a compatible smartphone.

Winner: Tie

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Call quality

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Tom’s Guide considers the AirPods Pro one of the best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls for several reasons. Apple’s mics capture every spoken word and produce great clarity for those on the opposite end to hear you loudly and clearly. The strong seal produced by the ear tips lets you to hear calls better. Wind resistance is impressive to minimize interference when chatting in gusty conditions. The H1 chip provides 50% more talk time than the original AirPods too.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

One would think that a stronger mic array, wind-resistant tech and even bone conduction sensors would give the WF-1000XM4 elite call quality. Sadly, though, Sony’s buds continue to disappoint as a communication tool. Muffling is a major issue, and the buds pick up more noise than they neutralize. They came in handy for video calls, but only indoors and in quiet settings.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Battery life

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

One word: Sony. Not only does the WF-1000XM4 receive a generous boost in ANC playtime (8 hours) from the previous version, but you can extend playtime to 12 hours when turning off ANC. Be mindful that volume, streaming, and running multiple features will decrease battery life by about 1 hour. Either way, that’s a significant amount to work with. The charging case holds between 24 to 36 hours, depending on how you use the buds. 

If there’s anything nice to be said about the AirPods Pro’s battery life, it’s that the H1 chip squeezes every bit of juice out for optimal use and can learn your daily charging routine to preserve battery health over time. Unfortunately, a full charge only gives you 4.5 hours of ANC playback and 5 hours when the feature is turned off. That isn’t very compelling. The charging case can hold up to 24 hours when fully charged.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Both models come with quick charging: a 5-minute charge generates 1 hour of use on either set of buds. Wireless charging is on the spec sheet as well, though the AirPods Pro supports more options, including Apple’s MagSafe Charger and the upcoming MagSafe Duo Charger.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Verdict

You look at most of these categories and figure the WF-1000XM4 is the clear winner. Right? No. It's close, but the AirPods Pro remains the model to beat based on overall performance. Talk all you want about the stale design and subpar battery life. At the end of the day, Apple has given us a pair of wireless earbuds that is practically perfect, especially when paired with any of the latest iPhones. The fact that it’s still being updated with new features through software updates is marvelous. Noise cancellation is effective, and sound is gratifying enough to keep you entertained when commuting. Then you have the impeccable controls, highlighted by “Hey Siri” functionality, along with several ways to personalize sound.

Sony WF-1000XM4AirPods Pro
Price and value (5)45
Design (15)1111
Controls (10)810
Audio quality (20)1918
Active noise cancellation(20)1817
Special features and apps (15)1313
Call quality (5)35
Battery life (10)97
Total score (100)8586

The WF-1000XM4 is a stunner in numerous ways and well worth the money if you desire excellent audio, noise cancellation and battery life in a fancy package. Some of Sony’s moves may be considered risky, from the overhauled design to the toned-down, but well-balanced, sound profile. All were implemented for the greater good, even if the new design isn’t as ergonomic as advertised. However, the mediocre call quality and notable missing features hurt its case in this battle, giving the AirPods Pro a slight edge.